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11 May 2021

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

All right.  Good afternoon, and sorry for the delay. 

**Virtual Noon Briefing Guests

In a short while, I will be joined by our guests who will brief you on the World Economic Situation and Prospects Mid-year Update.  And those will be Hamid Rashid, the lead author of the report, and Helena Afonso, an Economics Affairs Officer.  Both of them are from the Department of the Economic and Social Affairs.  They will be joining us virtually. 

**Secretary-General — Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel

I have two statements to share with you.  The first one is on the Middle East. 

The Secretary-General is gravely concerned by the serious escalations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, including the latest escalation in Gaza, which add to the heightened tensions and violence in occupied East Jerusalem. 

He is deeply saddened to learn of the increasingly large numbers of casualties, including children, from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, and of Israeli fatalities from rockets launched from Gaza. 

The Secretary-General’s thoughts are with the families of the victims. 

Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint and calibrate their use of force.  The indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars towards Israeli population centres is unacceptable. 

This spiralling escalation must cease immediately. 

The United Nations is working with all relevant parties to de-escalate the situation urgently. 

**Secretary-General — Russian Federation

And I have a statement on the school shooting that took place in the Russian Federation earlier today.  The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the reported deaths of nine people, including seven children, in a shooting today outside a school in the city of Kazan in the Russian Federation.  He strongly condemns this act of senseless violence and expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the victims, as well as to the Government and people of the Russian Federation.  He wishes those injured a speedy and full recovery. 

**Moscow

And later today, the Secretary-General will be travelling to Moscow at the invitation of the Russian Government, as we’ve already told you. 

There, he will meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other senior Government officials. 

On Thursday, Mr. Guterres will receive an honorific doctorate from Moscow State Institute of International Relations.  While there, he will also meet with young participants of the Moscow Model UN.  And we will have more updates as they come in. 

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Earlier this morning, we issued a statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned yesterday’s attack against a temporary position of the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC.  The attack by suspected members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), took place in Beni, North Kivu, and resulted in the killing of one peacekeeper from Malawi. 

The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to the family of the deceased peacekeeper, as well as to the Government and the people of Malawi. 

He also recalls that attacks against UN peacekeepers may constitute a war crime and calls on the Congolese authorities to investigate this incident and swiftly bring those responsible to justice. 

The Secretary-General reaffirms that the United Nations, through his Special Representative in the DRC, will continue to support the Congolese Government and people in their efforts to bring about peace and stability in the east of the country. 

**Nigeria

And I was asked about multiple security incidents that have happened in Nigeria, and I can tell you that the Secretary-General condemns the attack on a mosque that took place on 9 May, in Katsina State, where gunmen reportedly abducted 40 worshippers during a Ramadan overnight prayer.  He notes the efforts made to rescue some 30 worshippers and calls for the release of the remaining ones.  He recalls the sanctity of all places of worship and urges swift efforts to hold the perpetrators to account.

The Secretary-General also condemns the attacks on police checkpoints and police stations in Rivers and Imo States in Nigeria on 8 and 9 May, which led to the death of 7 police officers.  He conveys his deepest sympathies to the families of the deceased officers and to the Government and calls on the authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

**Colombia

And a short while ago, the Secretary-General told me that he had spoken with President Iván Duque of Colombia. 

President Duque, in his phone conversation with the Secretary-General, reaffirmed the Colombian government’s support for the full implementation of the Peace process, as well as his commitment for a national dialogue. 

The Secretary-General reiterated the United Nations full support for the peace process.

**Every Woman Every Child

And, earlier today, the Secretary-General spoke at a meeting with the former members of the Every Woman Every Child High-Level Steering Group and the Independent Accountability Panel. 

He said that, after a decade of implementation, Every Woman Every Child has proven to be a highly impactful global health initiative, mobilizing investments of more than $180 billion by Governments and other partners. 

In the past decade, more than 1 billion children were vaccinated.  Since the year 2000, maternal deaths declined by 35 per cent, and deaths of children under 5 years of age reached an all-time recorded low. 

However, the Secretary-General said that the pandemic has shown the fragility of these advances, disrupting access to essential health services including childhood immunization, family planning and psychosocial support. 

The Secretary-General said that this has reinforced the urgent need to prioritize country-level implementation to ensure we keep the spotlight on these issues and leave no one behind. 

**Security Council — Iraq

This morning, in the Security Council, there was an open virtual meeting on the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq.  Briefing Council members was Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the Secretary-General’s head of mission and Special Representative in Iraq.  She noted that we are now five months away from all-important national elections, scheduled to take place on 10 October. 

The Special Representative added that these elections are a central demand of the protest movement; and yet, many of its members continue to be persecuted with rampant impunity.  She pointed out that the assassination of prominent activist Ihab Jawad Al-Wazni just two days ago, by unidentified gunmen in front of his house in Karbala, is yet just another tragic example of this impunity. 

She added that while Iraqi leaders call for stability as a prerequisite for progress, violent attacks against both civilian and military targets continue with troubling [regularity], and these are but a few examples of the daily struggle in Iraq. 

Her full remarks have been shared with you.

**COVID-19 — Seychelles

A couple of COVID updates.  In the Seychelles, the UN team there is ramping up its support to authorities to respond to a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.  The country has reported its largest number of new cases per capita in the past few weeks.   

WHO has increased its support to authorities to detect, investigate, quarantine, isolate and report cases.  WHO’s technical experts are currently working with national labs to boost infection prevention. 

Our team there has helped to train more than 500 people working in health facilities, tourism sites, ports of entry and others on case management.  We have also provided personal protective equipment, laboratory supplies and other equipment. 

WHO continues to support the national vaccination campaign by providing coordination assistance, training, as well as monitoring immunizations.  The Resident Coordinator, Christine Umutoni, says the UN is dedicated to tackling the wider impacts of the pandemic in the Seychelles.

**COVAX

And Mauritius received the second batch of doses from COVAX over the weekend of vaccines, of course.  The Resident Coordinator for Mauritius, who also covers the Seychelles, Christine Umutoni, reiterated our commitment to supporting Mauritius. 

The UN team has been supporting vaccination efforts, including helping with the purchase of vaccines.  We are also working on a green recovery from the pandemic, as well as on continuing to advocate for those affected most by COVID-19 including women, people living with HIV, and migrants as well as refugees.  Also, several Caribbean countries have been receiving COVAX vaccines. 

More than 33,000 doses landed in Barbados today, while Suriname; Trinidad and Tobago; and Guyana also received shipments yesterday.  We helped with this at the global, regional and country levels, and we are supporting national vaccination campaigns that are targeting priority groups first. 

**Madagascar

And the Food and Agriculture Organization, as well as its sister organization, the World Food Programme, today warned that with each day that passes, more lives are at stake as hunger tightens its grip in southern Madagascar.  According to these agencies, well over 1 million people, that is 1.14 million people in the south of the country, are facing high levels of acute food insecurity. 

They said that this is the worst drought in four decades, which has been building over three consecutive years, has wiped out harvests and hampered peoples’ access to food.  This comes on top of years of deforestation and resulting erosion — now compounded by climate change.  All of this have devastated the environment.  Unprecedented sandstorms have transformed large swathes of arable land into wasteland. 

The Government and FAO have supported the livelihoods of around 20,000 farming families.  For its part, WFP is also bringing in supplies, but access to the worst affected areas is being hampered by poor infrastructure and weak road networks.  The COVID-19 restrictions have also halted all flights into the island nation, meaning that critical humanitarian cargo is limited to access by boat and lead times for this have increased sharply. 

**Financial Contribution

Lastly, we thank and say merci to our friends in Niamey [in Niger] for helping us to reach the nice number of 100.  And that is 100 countries who paid their budget dues in full.

I will take your questions.

**Questions and Answers

Edie. 

Question:  Thank you very much, Steph.  It’s been 100 days since the military takeover in Myanmar, and I wonder what the Secretary‑General’s message is now to the military.  And then I have a follow‑up question to something you said earlier.

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, his message on the 100th day is the same as it was on the 99th day, and that’s a message to the military to respect the will of the people and to act in the greater interest of peace and stability in their countries, to release the prisoners, to reverse the situation. 

It’s also important that, I think, that ASEAN follows through on its own commitments and help in that regard.  Meanwhile, our Special Envoy, Christine Schraner Burgener, is in the region and continuing her contacts with key stakeholders.

Question:  A quick follow‑up on Christine Schraner Burgener.  Has she received any reply from the military to her latest request to visit Myanmar?

Spokesman:  Her contacts are continuing.  Obviously, when we have something firm to share with you, we will do so.

Question:  And on, a follow‑up to the Secretary…  your statement on what’s going on between Israel and the Palestinians, has the Secretary‑General himself been in contact with any of the key players?

Spokesman:  Contacts are continuing to be held at all levels with all interested parties in an effort to help de‑escalate the situation. 

Ibtisam.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  On your statement of the Secretary‑General regarding the situation in Israel and Palestine, so, given the fact that more than 20 civilians, Palestinian civilians were killed, and among them are nine children, I would like to ask you again today, does the Secretary‑General condemn the killing of Palestinian civilians by Israeli occupation forces?  Thank you.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General stands against the killing of any, any and all civilians.  What we want to see is a stop to this spiral of violence.  We have said it clearly that the Israeli security forces must exercise restraint and calibrate their use of force and that the firing, indiscriminate firing and launching of rockets from Gaza must…  is also completely unacceptable.

Question:  A follow‑up, I mean, yesterday, you condemned the rockets firing from Gaza toward Israel, but you refused to condemn…

Spokesman:  Look…

Question:  …the Israeli actions against Palestinians. 

Spokesman:  We want to see… 

Question:  Today, we have…

Spokesman:  We want to see an end to this cycle of violence and this spiralling, which is getting extremely concerning and extremely dangerous.  There is also a broader political environment, which also needs to be addressed, and that is through negotiations to handle these, a lot of these issues which need to be settled.

Question:  But…  sorry.  Just a follow‑up.

Spokesman:  Sorry.

Question:  But that doesn’t answer my question, why aren’t you condemning the killing of Palestinian civilians?…

Spokesman:  We, of course, stand against any use…  any killing of civilians, any targeting of civilians. 

Okay.  Ms. Saloomey.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  To follow up on that, yesterday, the US State Department was asked if Palestinians have a right to self‑defence.  And while the United States was very clear about Israel’s right to self‑defence, the Spokesperson never really answered the question for Palestinians.  So, I’m wondering, can you tell us, under international law, can you clarify, do Palestinians in the occupied territory have a right to self‑defence?

Spokesman:  Look, I can’t answer that question at this point, in terms of international law.

Question:  But under international law, States have a right to self‑defence.  Palestine’s recognised as a State by the United Nations.

Spokesman:  Look, what…  I’m not intellectually qualified from this podium to get into the intricacies of international law.  I’ll be honest with you.  What we want to see is an end to this spiral of violence.

People, including Palestinians, have a right to demonstrate and to express themselves.  When they do…  when people demonstrate and express themselves peacefully, they have a right not to be shot at.  Civilians who are in their homes, whether it be in Israel, in Gaza or any other place, have a right not to have rockets fired down at them.

Question:  And the Spokesperson for the High Commissioner of Human Rights, Rupert Colville, has also said that the eviction of families in occupied territories is against international law and in violation of the Geneva Convention.  So, if a Palestinian family…

Spokesman:  We have said that.  If you look back at our statements, we have talked about the evictions and how they must stop and that Israel has responsibilities under international law to ensure that those evictions in occupied territories do not happen.

Question:  If a Palestinian family is being evicted from their home at gunpoint in an occupied situation, then, do they have a right to defend themselves?

Spokesman:  People have a right to express themselves.  People have a right to demonstrate. 

Ibtisam.  Oh, sorry.  Betul.  I’m sorry.

Question:  Thank you, “Steph.” Actually… a follow‑up on Ibtisam’s question.  Why does the Secretary‑General refrain from using the word “condemnation” when it comes to the killing of Palestinians?  Are the Palestinians’ lives worth…

Spokesman:  No… 

Question:  …less than Israelis’?

Spokesman:  …and I think…  no, and I think…  not at all, and I think, as I said, we stand against the killings of civilians on all and any side.

Question:  Then why doesn’t he use the word “condemnation”?

Spokesman:  I think, I think I’ve stated my position.

I’m not having…  I’m having horrible back pains today, and my mind’s not…  yes, Majeed, go ahead, and then Nabil.

Question:  I’ll follow up with the same question, then two questions about Iraq. 

In a statement, it says Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint and calibrate their use of force.  Is it accurate for me, as a reporter right now going on TV, say the Secretary‑General asked for the Israelis to stop their military campaign?

Spokesman:  If…  listen, you’re the reporter.  I’m the Spokesman.  So, we all have…

Question:  Is it accurate…

Spokesman:  We have different…  if you want to be accurate, I would just read what he said, or what the statement said.

Question:  But…  so “restrain” doesn’t mean stop. 

Spokesman:  We have seen…  yesterday, we talked about the indiscriminate firing of rockets into civilian populations, as claimed by Hamas.  We asked for all of these things to stop.  I would just, if I were you, just stick…  I’m not you.  I will stick to what exactly has been said.

Question:  On Iraq, I have two questions…

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  The first one is, as you know, Iraq asked for more assistance in term of the election, which is a big deal for a war‑torn country that’s asking the United Nations to help them have a free and fair elections.  But the Security Council did not provide, did not accept that request.  Basically, they are saying to UNAMI, do whatever you’re doing before, a little bit better.  What does the Secretary‑General think about this?  Basically, Security Council is not providing a Government that just came out of war to help them…

Spokesman:  We…

Question:  …with a free and fair elections?

Spokesman:  We have a mandate which we need to respect in Iraq, a mandate given to us by the Security Council.  We will support the Iraqi people and the Iraqi Government to the fullest extent of our mandate.  Right?  We cannot go beyond our mandate, whether in Iraq or anywhere else.

Question:  And in term of UNITAD, you heard yesterday from Mr. Karim Khan that we still, not because of his investigation team of what’s…  what they are doing ,they are doing great job, but in term of the legal system, they cannot have court…  they cannot have a legal proceeding, prosecuting ISIS fighters.  Ms. Nadia Murad asked for that to be expedited after all these years. 

What is Secretary‑General thinking about this?  Why this delay in trying these ISIS leaders, which are clearly committed these mass killings, up to now?

Spokesman:  Well, we want to see systems of justice that are free and that are fair and that allow the victims and the families of the victims to get justice.  Right?  And, but part of getting justice is for it to be done swiftly, within a fair system.

Okay, Nabil.

Question:  About the Quartet on the Middle East, is the SG working on the Quartet track?  Is there any discussions happening, communication?  Do you expect anything from the Quartet?

Spokesman:  Yeah, there is communication being done through…  at all levels, including and especially through our coordinator, Tor Wennesland. 

It’s important that the international community, and especially through the Quartet mechanism, do what it can to promote and create an environment that will push the parties back to a path of negotiations and create some sort of political horizon.

Question:  Okay.  Another question about Mr. Nickolay Mladenov.  He’s now back on Twitter, at least, and he’s always commenting on the situation in the Middle East, Gaza, West Bank.  Does he have any capacity in the UN anymore or not?

Spokesman:  No, he has no role within the United Nations.

Question:  And can you update us on any, I don’t know, reason why he stepped down from…

Spokesman:  No.  I mean, I would refer you back to what was said, what he said at the time. 

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Carla, and then we’ll go to Abdelhamid.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Can you comment on…

Spokesman:  I…  that’s not for me to comment on.  I’m sorry. 

Abdelhamid. 

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I have also…

Spokesman:  Your mic is…  go ahead.  Try again. 

Question:  Can you hear me?  Stéphane, can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Okay.  My question, Stéphane, yesterday, you issued a statement condemning the firing of rockets with the strongest term, as the statement said.  It was issued at 12:00.  I mean, Hamas fired the rockets at 11:00 a.m., New York time, 6:00 p.m., Gaza time.  So, it took the SG one hour to condemn, with the strongest term, the firing of the rockets.  But it took him over ten days to say something about what was going on in Jerusalem until 300 people were wounded in Al-Aqsa Mosque, and he only issued a statement on Sunday evening.

Can you explain the disparity between the speedy statement after the rockets and the slow motion for issuing a statement on what was going in Jerusalem?

Spokesman:  I think we expressed our position on what was going on in Jerusalem through various means, through the Special Coordinator, through things that I’ve said here.  Our statements are all public.  You, as you’ve, as you have ably done, check the time that it has taken to things.  Write what you wish.  We’ve expressed our position, and we’ve expressed our opinion.  I’m not going to get into a ticktock analysis of when we said what.

Question:  Follow‑up…

Spokesman:  Sorry.  Go ahead.

Question:  Another question, please. 

Spokesman:  Yes, of course.

Question:  Thank you.  The number of people killed today and last night in Gaza is 28, including 9 children, 1 woman, and 2 Israelis, 2 civilian Israelis.  So, we have 28 and 2 Israelis.  Does the SG condemn, with the strongest term, killing all the civilians?  And I want to ask specifically about the word “condemn”. Does…  can he use the word “condemn”…

Spokesman:  We have…  I think I’ve answered that question…

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  …we stand…  I’m not…  we stand clearly against the killing of all and every civilian.

Okay, Mario. 

Correspondent:  Hi, Steph.  Can you hear me?

Spokesman:  Yep.

Question:  Yeah.  On the call with President Duque of Colombia, did the Secretary‑General tell him anything about the way that the security forces have been dealing with the protests in the country, the amount of casualties that were seen?

Spokesman:  Look, I think…  short answer is I don’t know how much detail that went into the conversation, but our position on the need for security forces in Colombia to show…  to show restraint and to allow people to demonstrate peacefully has been expressed very publicly.  So, I have no doubt, the position that is expressed publicly is the same that would be expressed privately. 

Who’s that?  Toby?

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesman:  Sorry.  You look different in person than on the screen. 

Question:  Better, I hope.  Has the…  Christine Schraner Burgener, Special Envoy for Myanmar, reached out to the National Unity Government’s armed division?

Spokesman:  No, I’m not aware, I mean, she’s had contact with, some of the parliamentarians and people who have been, who have been pushed out, but I’m not aware of any direct contact with the so‑called armed or military wing that you mention.

Okay, I will now see if our guests are here. 

Correspondent:  Hi, Steph.  It’s James Reinl here.

Spokesman:  James Reinl.  You’re not our guest, but if you have a question, I will entertain it.  Be my guest.

Question:  I do.  I think I’ve been caught in that problem that you put your name down on the list in the chat, but for some reason, it doesn’t appear.  But I wanted to follow up on Majeed’s question about the UN support for the Iraqi elections, slightly different in tone to Majeed, because we just heard in the Council from the US Ambassador, Linda Thomas‑Greenfield, and she was saying that she wanted to really boost UNAMI’s mandate when it comes to monitoring the elections in October, dramatically bolster, she said, and she wanted it to become the largest “UN technical electoral assistance mission in the world”.

Obviously, if that does happen, it’s you guys that have to do it.  Is there anything you can tell us about this plan at this stage?

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, we would, as we’ve said, we would need a new mandate or an updated mandate from the Security Council in order to do that.  There is always planning, and we’re always trying to plan to see what the possibilities are.  So, if we are given the mandate, we will, of course, implement it.

Okay, let’s now move to our guests, who have been extremely patient.

For information media. Not an official record.